"Your one-max rep on the bench press is a good indicator of upper body strength and gym dedication, so everyone wants an impressive score," says Neil Odell, a personal trainer and lecturer at City & Islington College (candi.ac.uk (opens in new tab)).
"The problem is that doing too much work on your chest and not enough on your back results in hunched shoulders, which in turn leads to a lack of range of motion and poor posture. It can also cause shoulder pain. You will need strong pecs, deltoids, lats and triceps for this lift."
How to bench press properly
- 1. Lie on the bench with a natural arch in your back, your knees bent at 90˚ and your feet on the floor.
- 2. Grip the bar with your hands wider than shoulder-width apart directly above your chest.
- 3. Lower the bar slowly to your chest and press back up powerfully, without arching your back.
Exercises To Improve Your Bench Press
Incline one-arm press-up on step
The one-arm press-up requires immense strength and co-ordination between the chest, triceps, shoulder, glute and core muscles; all the muscles required for a strong bench press.
- Place a step on the floor and get into a press-up position but with just your right hand on the step.
- Perform a press-up.
- Repeat on the other side.
Serratus anterior pulse
With the support of the bench the serratus anterior muscles – which run from the side of the chest to the shoulders – can get lazy when bench pressing, and this can restrict your range of motion. This move will put your shoulders in the right position for the press.
- Kneel with your hands on a gym ball, placed slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Keeping your body in line, let your shoulder blades collapse inwards, then push them out while keeping your elbows straight and locked the whole time.
Many people think the bench press is the best exercise for the chest - but they're wrong. This move hits the chest but works the stabilising muscles around the shoulders too. It also hits the abs and lower back, which are often required to shift your weight in sports.
- Get into a press-up position, then bend your elbows until your upper body is just off the floor, moving your right knee to your right elbow as you lower.
- Push up to the start using your chest, shoulders and triceps. Repeat on the other side.
Medicine ball chest pass
The power aspect of this move kicks your nervous system into gear, while jump-starting your fast-twitch muscle fibres. This results in more responsive, stronger muscles, meaning you can use more weight on your lifts.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your core braced.
- Hold a medicine ball against your chest with both hands.
- Push with both hands to throw the ball against a wall or to a partner.
Joe Warner worked for Men’s Fitness UK, which predated, and then shared a website with, Coach, from 2008 to 2013, then returned as editor of Men’s Fitness UK from 2016 to 2019.
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